With an undeniable screen presence and talent that has enabled him to work on several of the most successful films of the past few years, Paul Walker has made the leap to leading man status. Walker recently completed production in Mexico on “The Death & Life of Bobby Z” opposite Laurence Fishburne for director John Herzfeld. He will be seen in several diverse films in 2006, including “Eight Below”, a rescue-adventure film for director Frank Marshall. He also has a strong supporting role in director Clint Eastwood’s next project, “Flags of Our Fathers”, based on the famous World War II Battle of Iwo Jima.
Last Fall, Walker starred opposite Jessica Alba in the thriller “Into the Blue” for director John Stockwell. Walker co-starred in director Richard Donner’s adaptation of Michael Crichton’s novel “Timeline” for Paramount Pictures. He also starred in the box-office hits “The Fast and The Furious” and its sequel “2 Fast 2 Furious”, infiltrating street racers to bust a hijacking ring. His other credits include the critically praised thriller “Joy Ride” and the box-office hits “The Skulls”, “Varsity Blues”, “Pleasantville”, “She’s All That” and “Brokedown Palace”. Playing the role of Joey in “Running Scared” marks one of leading man Paul Walker’s initial forays into more mature filmic territory.
Question: So what’s this thing your director, Wayne Kramer, said about you getting into bar fights?
Walker: I’m a nice guy. I wish I had a chip on my shoulder so these guys would never like me. That’s what it all comes down to. But I get a little ornery when I drink sometimes. I can’t talk about it dude, I got pending lawsuits and shit so I should just shut up. (laughs)
Question: What did you have to do to convince him you could do this part?
Walker: You know what? Surprisingly enough it was a pretty easy sell. I went in and I think – it was at his house, actually – and I think he just looked into my eyes and he saw that I really liked it. I think Wayne , more than anything, has got a lot of confidence in himself and he definitely saw something. But, I don’t know what the hell it was. To this day I don’t understand why he gave me the crack. They already had their financing. You know, it wasn’t subject to someone signing on who had a little marquee value. But, I think he liked the idea that it was so opposite of what people saw – “If I can pull it off with this kid, it makes me look that much better.” I can’t help thinking that’s what’s going on in his head. Plus, we work together really well.
Question: How difficult was it to shoot the hockey rink scene where you’re face down on the ice?
Walker: Well, I won a lot of points because my – I don’t know, did Wayne tell you about this?
Walker: He brags about me on that scene, because my face was in the ice for six days straight. It’s so funny, because you hear about so many actors who give the industry a bad name because they are such a pain in the ass. If you show up and just do your job and don’t complain you’re like the best guy in the world. (Laughs) That’s all I do is show up and do what I have to do. I only ask questions when I think there is a question that needs to be asked. A lot of the time people just like to create drama, because it makes people feel important or they want to exercise their power. I’m pretty confident; I don’t feel like I have to do that sort of thing. I just do what I gotta do and people sing my praises. (Laughs)
That was a fun scene. The guy who was on my back was big. Peter was like 315 pounds. And he was doing his best to sit on me without centering on my spine. My face – I couldn’t even feel my face. And I had the weirdest lacerations. We couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Maybe particulates, you know? Or grit from the ice. My face was all diced up. For weeks they were putting a lot of make up on. It was cold. I didn’t even feel anything. My face was frozen. I love those guys. Wayne ‘s solid. That guy is insane. That guy loves movies. It’s nice.
You work with these pricks and you hear these stories about like Michael Bay . I mean that guy is such a nightmare. People like that shouldn’t be allowed to work anymore. I hope he hears this. (Laughs) I bump into him from time to time and he’s always pretty cool, like, “Hey Paul what’s going on?” But I know the true stories dude. So I’ll say, “Hey, what’s up,” but the truth of the matter is that I think we would actually work pretty well together, because my understanding is that he loves to thump on people until you just step up right to him. You’ve got to put that guy in check. And nobody does.
So, I’m like, “Dude! I wanna work with Michael Bay !” I’ll be like, “Yo shut the fuck up!” And get all gnarly with him and see what happens. And I worked with the opposite of that which would be Clint Eastwood. I was so excited to work with that guy and you hear all these great stories and you get there and it doesn’t have to be that hard. That guy never raises his voice, uses very few words, gives so much respect – you really feel it’s like a collaborative effort. Especially with the peers he works with like the D.P. and Campanelli and the guys he works with all the time. It’s like two or three words and a sign and everything happens and it’s like, “Hey Campy did you get it?” In two, maybe three takes.
Question: Did your role in Running Scared help you get the role in Flags of our Fathers?
Walker: I have no idea. They didn’t want to give me anything. I had to go in and read. I didn’t even meet with him. I even told the casting director, “I’ll scrub your floors. I don’t care.” And then it came right down to it, they are like, “You’re not going to get the A-list treatment. You’re not going to get the trailers. You’re not going to get the A-list money.” And I’m like, “You guys don’t understand. Do you want me to come in and wash you’re freakin’ floors?” And I think they finally thought, “This guy is serious.” So, I got out there. It was cool. I had a great time.
Question: You’ve done an awful lot of PG-13 movies that had to have the violence toned down. What was it like to be in a “Hard R” film?
Walker: It feels good. And you know what feels even better is, you talk to the director and you know there isn’t a studio behind it and there isn’t somebody to reel it in. I sat down with Wayne and he’s like, “This movie is dark and it’s gonna stay dark. We’re probably going to go darker.” And that was it. And everyday I’m in there smacking people upside the head, doing this and that. And I’m going, “I’d love to do this to bad guys in real life.” You’d go to prison for it. You’d get prosecuted. You’d have lawsuits pending. My man, just give me an excuse.
Especially, Vera’s scene. When she smokes those pedophiles? Dude, I’d just assume smoke all of them. I heard people walkin’ down the hall. I listen. People are here to interview and they’re like, “That scene just came from left field. I don’t know about the pedophile scene. What’s that about?” That’s the point. It’s completely out of left field. That’s what is supposed to knock your socks off. I said to Wayne, Vera, to everybody, that’s the most memorable scene in the movie. Love it or hate it people are going, “What the hell?”
Question: Did you want people to think your character was evil?
Walker: I just really wanted everyone to feel he was going to become his father and just start smacking the hell out of his kids. But, that was the only thing, that was the only example he had growing up as kid. His father wasn’t a father. The one thing he knew he wasn’t going to do was beat his kids. Outside of the rest of it he’s just kind of figuring out. Kind of like me as a dad. You’re sort of just going through the motions one day after the next trying to be the best dad you can be. And one day an opportunity comes along and he becomes a police officer and the next thing you know they want him to go U.C. And he’s like “Whoa.”
And it seemed like the best thing. He’s got a roof over his head, food on the table every night. And then, “Aw shit. My worst nightmare is realized. I’m going to be damned if anything is going to happen to him.” I think everything he does is justified. To take it even further, the reason why it rang so true to me and resonated was because when I read it I was like, “Hell, yeah.” Everything he did…if I was in the situation I’d do the same thing. I think any guy would say that. I’m sorry, but if your life is on the line and not yours, but your families? I’m sorry, that’s our job. I’m going to smoke those fools. And I’m not going to feel bad about it, because they are all bad guys. I’m not going to loose any sleep about it.
Question: There isn’t a big emotional scene where he finds out he’s undercover.
Walker: We played with the ending a bit when I was dying on the front lawn. And there were variations where we went for that, but maybe it was just too wordy. I think we just decided it happens off screen. I wanted to die. I thought that should have been the end of the movie, but that was just my opinion.
Question: Who talked you guys down from that one?
Walker: Wayne. Wayne wanted a happy ending.
Question: So, in the script was there always that scene at the end?
Walker: Yeah, it was always there. As soon as I saw it, I was like, “I should just die, Wayne .” Actually when were filming I think I told him, “I should just die.”
Question: What was his reaction?
Walker: He just likes the idea of everyone coming together. Because the real victim is Oleg. He looses his mother in the whole bit. Let the kids just come out all right. Maybe that has something to do with him having a son, maybe that’s sensitive for him, I dunno.
Question: Could you have played the part if you were not a father yourself?
Walker: Yeah, because essentially I was a father to my youngest brother. He was born when I was 15 years old and I was changing his diapers. I watched him play water polo and now he’s going to go play at UCSB, a division one school.
Question: What did your actual experiences do to help?
Walker: Big family. Nieces, nephews, my daughter. I pull on all those things. It’s just all there. You get the feeling, you get what’s at stake. I would do anything for any of my family members. Especially the kids for sure.
Question: Were you worried about the kids being on that set and there being so much violence? Like Cameron Bright, the actor who plays Oleg?
Walker: Yeah, well his mother was there and he didn’t have much of a father. So, I got in there. It’s important for me that the parents understand that I’m not a creep and that I’m good with kids. I understand what’s going on here. I respect that he’s away and missing school and he’s surrounded by a bunch of adults and you’re trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in the midst of all this craziness. So, I go out and get a football. You have no idea how hard it was to find a football in the middle of Prague . They are throwing soccer balls at me wherever I go. I’m like, “Damnit. That’s a soccer ball! American football!” I finally found one. And it plays out, because Joey throws around the football with the kids anyway so I justified it that way. I tried to keep it loose. Because, the kids they grow up too fast. That’s why they are all wacked out.
Question: So, having these two movies (Running Scared and Eight Below) coming out right after another – where does that put you moving forward?
Walker: These were spaced out quite a ways. They are just being released a few weeks apart. I’m pretty beat up right now. I didn’t even realize, but a long term relationship ended close to two years ago now and I’ve been the guy who’s played a lot, work a little bit. (Laughs) And all of a sudden I wanted to work a lot and I wasn’t conscious of what was going on. But subconsciously something was going on. But that wears you out. Got to take a break. See if you want to remain normal. I don’t want to become one of those freaky kids.